Finalist, Sony Impact Award for Current Affairs

Paul Salahadin Refsdal (Norwegian)

December 2014 - June 2015, Syria

Dugma: The Button

Funded by the Norwegian Film Institute, Viken Filmsenter and Fritt Ord. Broadcast on NRK

Paul spent months inside rebel-controlled Northern Syria securing unprecedented access to film with Jabhat al Nusra, the local branch of al-Qaida. The result is an intimate portrait and of a group of suicide bombers in waiting. In sharp contrast to how al-Qaida likes to portray themselves, the characters in this film are not just soldiers, but human beings with weaknesses, faults and self-doubt.

Among the people we meet, waiting for his turn on the list to undertake martyrdom operations, is a Saudi man with a love for life and a love for deep fried chicken. Another fighter waiting for his turn is a British convert who gradually doubts that pushing the button – the Dugma – would be the right thing for him to do.



Paul Salahadin Refsdal is a freelance photographer-turned-cameraman. After leaving the Norwegian army in 1984, he went to Afghanistan to report on the Mujahideen fighting Soviet occupation. In the following decades Refsdal reported on about a dozen insurgent groups including the KLA in Kosovo, the Tamil Tigers, the Shining Path of Peru, the Chechen rebels, the Afghan Taliban and the Syrian branch of al Qaeda.

Judges Comments

"This is a great example of observational filmmaking. We usually only learn about suicide bombers in news clips and from the martyrdom videos they make themselves before they commit their acts, but this was a totally fresh way of looking at them by letting them speak for themselves, giving an insight into their psyche so you see them as horribly human.

And what’s shocking is that these characters are so watchable, intriguing, and almost funny at times. He also gets across the banality of evil, the mundaneness of war. There is a great value to that; it’s quite special."